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Your Shot: Smith & Foulkes on Their Latest Honda Ingenuity


Nexus directing duo chat about teaming up with LA agency RPA on two new spots

Your Shot: Smith & Foulkes on Their Latest Honda Ingenuity

Smith & Foulkes have something of a knack for Honda ads. In the last two years both ‘Hands’ and ‘Inner Beauty’ have (very deservedly) racked up lots of gongs on the global awards circuit. And so it’s fitting then that L.A. agency RPA enlisted the Nexus directing duo for its latest Honda campaign for the new 2016 HR-V Crossover model. The campaign features two spots that celebrate the brand’s innovative history through oddly manipulated facial features and Russian doll-style classic cars. LBB’s Addison Capper chatted with Smith & Foulkes to find out how they created them.

LBB> The campaign consists of two very different spots. What was the initial brief and why did it appeal to you?

S&F> Both scripts introduced the All-new HRV Crossover, albeit focusing on very different stories behind the car’s development. The agency wanted us to capture the warmth, wit and invention of previous spots to show both the Honda heritage and creative thinking that had gone onto creating this new car. The scripts came from an enjoyably irreverent place which allowed us plenty of scope for some oddball surprises. 

LBB> What was your starting point when developing both films?

S&F> The starting point was, as always, how do we get these ideas across in a simple and effective way. The scripts gave us a story to tell, so we just had to work out how best to transition from one car to the next, or from one facial expression to the next.  It was obvious early on that the choreography of each one would be quite different, the rhythm of Give and Take (G&T) being very chopped up like a tug of war whilst Great Thinking Inside (GTI) was more of a single flowing dance. 

LBB> ‘Give and Take’ is really funny whereas ‘Great Thinking Inside’ has got a bit of a geeky edge to it. Saying that, though, they both exude a similar tone and feel. How did you pull that off?

S&F> G&T is essentially a film about balance, a chance to show how if you make one thing perfect it usually means you have to compromise elsewhere, whereas you get that elusive sweet spot with the HRV. We had to work out how far to take the facial oddness factor, noticeably weird but not unbelievably so. GTI dramatises the heritage of Honda innovation and the restless commitment to improving design that has led to the HRV. But it is also a celebration of generations of Honda ownership. It definitely has that ‘I had one of them!’ factor for the audience. 

Although each idea is quite different, it was important as we moved forward to make them feel related to each other rather than randomly different. So the staging, lighting and overall colour palette had to be the same for both.

LBB> ‘Give and Take’ is so satisfying to watch but a bit unnerving at the same time! What technology and techniques were involved in producing it? I imagine it involved some pretty meticulous research too…

S&F> The facial manipulation had to be enjoyably odd yet physically plausible. The trick was to combine these transitions with the facial performance, so each person was reacting to their new appearance with surprise and curiosity. MPC researched how to achieve this believably, finding the right contact points for each action. Each actor’s head was also digitally scanned, so that a CGI replacement could be used for the more extreme transformations.

LBB> I love ‘Great Thinking Inside’ - it seems like one for the Honda purists, but it’s still enjoyable for people not in the know. (I know naff all about classic Honda cars but my colleague is obsessed with them – and we both love the film.) How important and tricky was it to strike that balance?

S&F> The script showed a sequence of Russian Dolls continually opening up to reveal a new car, but this created several logistical challenges. It was important to show them as cars, not as stationary objects, so we had to find a way to reveal them without losing their real physicality or the momentum of the story. We designed ways for the cars to form either as they moved, or through intricate maneuvering. This also allowed a sense of each car ‘coming alive’ when fully formed, as if the life and energy has been transferred from car to car. 

To show the classic cars at their best we wanted the film to feel like a journey, both a literal one and a metaphorical path of experimentation and innovation. We also wanted to get the rhythm right so there were transformations ‘on the move’ broken up with more stop/start ones to keep the momentum, flow and element of surprise.

LBB> Can you talk us through the technology and techniques involved in ‘Great Thinking Inside’?

S&F> Each classic (and current) car was meticulously scanned and cleaned up to produce an inch perfect 3D model. This lengthy process allowed the animation team the time to test some of the key transitions and begin the development of the one shot animatic that would define the structure of the film. The animatic fed into a more considered pre-vis which, in turn, could be refined into final animation.

As each scan came through, the process of cutting and modification began. Some required being cut in half and others needed a more drastic alteration depending on how they featured in the ad. At the same time a separate team of artists were researching the colours, materials and finishes for each of the cars and also developing the textures for the extensive concrete expanse. This work was completed in Maya, XSi and Houdini with additional texturing worked up in Mari. The combination of animated parts were rendered in Arnold and comped together in Flame. 

LBB> Both spots look like particularly tricky productions, but equally good fun to work on. Would you agree with that?

S&F> Both spots had their challenges but we had a great team both at the agency and the crew and it was nothing but a pleasure trying to solve them. Both ideas were very clear, we just had to make them look amazing and have that sense of warmth and fun that Honda is known for. 

LBB> The campaign was developed by an American agency but produced by UK talent. Was everything produced here? How did everything work logistically?

S&F> The project was indeed originated in US but RPA came to Nexus in London because of our history with Honda on previous UK projects. The spot was produced by Nexus in the UK but with collaboration in the US, a real transatlantic project if you like. We spent a lot of time meeting with RPA in LA and obviously one of the spots was post produced with MPC LA. The more complex project in terms of animation and CG modelling and look/render was the UK produced GTI as we needed to check in daily and oversee in person. We were also in daily communication with the MPC spot over in LA. It worked very well and indeed the time difference, as with many of our US spots, worked in our favour as we were able to deliver feedback and have it actioned whilst we were asleep! Having the agency directly on hand in US to go in to view at MPC in person also worked well as the creatives were all very much on side with the director’s vision.

LBB> MPC and Time Based Arts post produced one spot each. What did they bring to each spot that other companies couldn’t have?

S&F> The two spots are very different but also had to seem part of a campaign – normally splitting across two companies could lead to issues of consistency but we had none of that as both Nexus, RPA and the two post houses collaborated and helped each other out immensely. MPC have a proven track record in their field so we felt very confident they could interpret our needs both when we were there in person and remotely. TBA are long time collaborators with Nexus and share our vision for attention to detail and going that extra mile so they seemed perfect partners for the GTI spot.

LBB> What were the trickiest components and how did you overcome them?

S&F> The exact list of cars in GTI took some time to agree upon, seeing as they had the entire Honda Hall of Fame to choose from, but each change in the line-up posed new problems. We wanted each transformation to fit the car, the exact shape and personality of each one matching how it is formed, so every time the cars or order changed, the transitions did too. For example, the folding box idea could only really work with the Element. We also had to scratch our heads when the client decided they wanted two open top cars, which are essentially only the bottom half of a Russian Doll! Luckily the S2000 had a handy removable top that we could use almost as a Russian Doll car gag.

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Genres: Visual VFX, Animatics

Categories: Cars, Automotive

Nexus Studios, Wed, 10 Jun 2015 15:17:57 GMT